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Better Controllers for a Stable Power Grid

Renewable energy has been an expanding area of research for decades now, but relatively little energy from renewable sources is in use today. New energy sources require new infrastructure with enormous up-front expenses, presenting a significant barrier to their adoption. One way to circumvent this expensive setup is to integrate new energy sources into the existing infrastructure, but doing so requires some innovative problem solving.

A good example of this is the power grid itself. As it stands, the grid is not equipped to effectively deal with the difference between existing energy sources, such as that between fossil fuels, and renewables. This is where the work of Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Seddik Djouadi becomes important.

“This project is about improving performance and stability of the future power grid,” said Djouadi. To integrate renewable energy sources into an existing grid, he explains, power electric converters must be used to manage variability between these energy sources.

There are systems in place doing this already, but Djouadi thinks they could be better. His JDRD project is focused on designing more effective controllers for these power converters. In its second year, the work is focusing on computational features to help ensure the stability and safety of the future power grid.

“These power converters introduce what’s called discreet dynamics, they switch between different modes of operation, but the grid is working in a continuous mode. When it is combined with power converters there is also switching and this creates a lot of problems in integration as far as stability and performance are concerned,” said Djouadi.

Djouadi likens this to driving car with a manual transmission: a driver shifts gears while driving to speed up and slow down. This shift or change from one mode to the next is essentially discreet dynamics. In a power grid, shifting between energy sources disrupts the way the existing system works, introducing potential issues.

As more renewable energy sources are integrated into the existing power grid, Djouadi’s work has the potential to provide tremendous benefits.

“Five to ten years from now I would say we’ll have high penetration of renewable energy resources and the benefit is obvious. It impacts everyone,” said Djouadi.